The Way Home (Part 2)

            Julie awoke early in the morning the sterile, white sheets sticking to her tanned and bare body. She turned over and ran her hand over the pillow she expected Pete’s head to be resting on. Her eyelids came open when she felt no one next to her.

            “Pete?” She sat up and rubbed her face to wake up. She flung off the sheets and went to the window of the cheap motel where they had spent the last two nights. They were almost to Mexico, which was good because they were running out of free cash. It went mostly for gas, drinks, motels, and pot.

            “We’ll be there in a few days and then the living’ll be even sweeter,” Pete had assured her. “And, if we ever want to go separate ways once we’re there, we can.”

            Julie had smiled and said, “Don’t worry, Baby, I’ll never leave.”

            She had thought she was reassuring him. As she looked out the window she saw that the motorcycle was gone. Her breathing became sporadic and shallow as she dug out a pair of hot pants and a halter to put on. Pete’s bag was gone. She sat on the bed and took some deep breaths until her breathing became normal. Then she slipped on her wedges to look around outside. Before she got past the door she found a note taped to it.

Julie,

You’re as groovy as they come. We always said we didn’t belong to each other. And you know me. I can’t stay in one place or with the same people very long. We’ve had a great time together.

Keep it real,

Pete

            A few nights prior, at a more expensive motel, she had been sitting on the bed filing her nails when he came out of the bathroom in a crisp button down shirt.

            Julie pushed the scent of his heavy cologne away from her nostrils with a wave of her hand. “Where are we going tonight?” she asked, getting up from the bed. “Should I get ready, too?”

            “Hey Baby, I’m going to go out on my own tonight. You stay here and enjoy the pool. I know how you like midnight swims.” He smiled. She had thought he was respecting her independence. She had thought he saw her.

            She had learned not to cry at a young age. Crying never solved anything, nor did it make people feel bad for what they had done to you. She sank to the floor and cried for the first time in eight years.

            Julie packed up her things and walked out of the motel like a zombie. She held a joint between her fingers and put it to her lips. She inhaled relaxation.

            The vast brown hills speckled with occasional green shrubs sprawled in front of her—desolate mounds of nothing. The cars raced on the highway before the hills. She walked beside it for a while before stopping and sticking out her thumb. A beige and beaten-up Chevy van blasting Credence Clearwater Revival pulled over. A woman with blonde hair and dark eyebrows moved to the back so Julie could sit in the passenger seat. The man driving had a heavy beard and mustache. He wore a headband in his long hair. He smiled and revealed a set of crooked and crusty teeth. His shifty black eyes looked her up and down before he motioned for her to open the door and sit.

            “You going anywhere near L.A.?” Julie asked as she climbed into the van.

            “We’ll go wherever you want, Baby,” the man said. Julie never wanted to be called “Baby” again.

 **********************************************************************

            John and Juliet were the only people Julie knew for weeks. She was usually too high to remember anything that went on outside the beige interior of the van. In the van, and likely outside of it too, she was known as Jewel. John thought Julie and Juliet sounded too similar and if he needed something from a specific woman there might be confusion.  

            “I have my Jewel and my Juliet,” John often remarked, an arm around each girl’s neck. He always chuckled afterward.

 **********************************************************************

            One morning Julie lay with her head hanging out of the door, vomiting on the pavement while John and Juliet had gone into the store to buy some more beer. The heat sucked all energy from her body. John and Juliet returned shortly with two full grocery bags.  

            “What’s wrong with Jewel?” John scowled at the body that lay limp on the floor of the backseat.

            “You okay, Jewel?” Juliet asked, helping Julie sit up as she shut the door. John slammed his foot on the gas pedal. The van screeched out of the parking lot.

            “I feel butterflies all the time,” Julie muttered leaning her head against Juliet’s shoulder. “And, I’m getting fat.”

            “What’s that?” John shouted back.

            “Nothing, she just ate something that made her feel sick,” Juliet answered.

            “I hope it passes soon,” Julie gasped.

            “Jewel, you didn’t eat something to make you sick,” Juliet whispered.

            “Now, don’t answer loudly, but how long have you felt this way?” Juliet slipped a cold hand under Julie’s shirt and onto her stomach.

            “I’ve felt this way for weeks,” Julie’s eyes had shut and she let out breathy murmurs.

            “Jewel, where is home?”

            “L.A. Give me a joint.”

            “No Jewel. We’ll get you home.”

 *************************************************************

            Juliet sat in the front seat as John turned down the radio.

            “Want a drink?” John asked Julie, raising a beer bottle. Julie’s hands rested on her stomach. She looked down and shook her head.

            “What’s wrong with Jewel?” he grumbled to Juliet. “She hasn’t been herself for days.”

            “I think she’s homesick,” Juliet answered. “Maybe we should drive her home.”

            “Why should we give up our Jewel?”

            “You have to admit, she’s not much fun anymore.”

            “She’s just up tight. We can fix that.” He pulled a joint from his shirt pocket and put it to his lips. Juliet offered a light. He inhaled and then passed it back to Julie who shook her head.

            “Take it!” John said. He slammed the steering wheel with his other hand. Juliet tensed and she nodded for Julie to take it. Julie put it to her lips but she didn’t inhale. John turned up the radio and bobbed his head to Three Dog Night.

             When they had pulled over for the night, Julie lay curled in a ball on the backseat trying to escape the beige walls that had become her home. She could hear John and Juliet in the front seat.

            “Let’s wake up Jewel,” she heard John grunt.

            “We don’t need her,” Juliet said. Julie could hear their bodies touch. She put her fingers to her ears to block out the series of gasps and grunts that echoed in silence.

            “Let’s find someone new,” Juliet said when they had finished, “someone fun.”

            “All right,” John said.

 ******************************************************************

            In the morning, John asked, “You ready to go home, Jewel?”

            Julie nodded. It didn’t take long for them to get to her house. They had only been an hour outside of L.A.

 ***************************************************************

            “This is your house?” John said, staring wide eyed at the large white house.

            “Yeah, sorry I can’t invite you in. My parents would freak out,” Julie said, getting out of the van.

            “We dig it,” John said.

            “Take care of yourself, Jewel.” Juliet stopped to look at Julie for a long while.

            “I will.”

            Julie put a hand to her slightly protruding stomach as she walked to the door. She swallowed hard and rang the doorbell. Viola answered the door. Julie had never seen her mother’s eyes quite so transparent.

            “Hi Mom,” she said. Viola looked her daughter up and down. Her long hair had grown a couple of inches and was flattened against her head with grease. Her clothes were wrinkled and she smelled like a combination of sour milk and sweet smoke. Julie’s hand was still on her stomach. Viola swallowed and put a hand over Julie’s.

            “I’m glad you’re home,” Viola said.

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